The Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, led a parliamentary delegation to a memorial service for Dr Frene Ginwala to pay tribute to the former Speaker, who was the first to serve in this role in the democratic Parliament. The memorial service was held in the Johannesburg City Hall yesterday.

Other dignitaries attending the memorial service included former Speaker of the NA Ms Baleka Mbete, former President Thabo Mbeki and leaders of political parties, as well as Dr Ginwala’s friends and family members.

Speaker Mapisa-Nqakula reminded her audience of events in May 1994, when the first democratic Parliament was instituted following the first general elections and Dr Ginwala was elected as the Speaker of the first democratic National Assembly. “The first task was the election of the Speaker and it all started in our caucus. It was unexpected that Parliament would elect a woman Speaker; the caucus of the African National Congress (ANC) was divided. The ascendance of Frene had an amazing effect on the fact that our democracy was taking root.”

In her role as Speaker, Dr Ginwala conducted herself with absolute integrity and earned respect from all political parties in Parliament. However, in as much as many South Africans know Dr Ginwala in her role as Speaker, her contribution to South African history is much broader than that. “We pay our last respects to her, not just as our beloved Speaker, but also as our icon of the liberation struggle. She was a committed and unwavering champion for women’s emancipation and acted as a travel agent for expatriating comrades out of the country, she managed to rise into leadership despite all the gender barriers at the time,” Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said.

Ms Pemy Majodina also spoke at the memorial service. She is the Chief Whip of the ANC in the NA and also a member of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), a continental legislative body. On behalf of PAP, Ms Majodina paid tribute to Dr Ginwala’s role in establishing it. “She was a towering giant in African politics, a champion and founding member of the Pan African Parliament and her contribution to the establishment of the institution is an indelible legacy,” Ms Majodina said.

Former Speaker Baleka Mbete who deputised for Dr Ginwala before succeeding her also paid tribute to the late former Speaker and compared her to another political heavyweight and advocate of gender equality, Ms Charlotte Maxeke. Ms Mbete hailed Dr Ginwala for steering Parliament in its early years in the absence of democratic parliamentary tradition and precedence.

One of Dr Ginwala’s biggest contributions, according to Ms Mbete, was her work to ensure that the ANC liberation movement’s archives were preserved. “We need to pay attention to the role played by Frene behind the scenes during the liberation struggle and in the preservation of the archives of the liberation struggle.”

Other speakers during the memorial service included Ms Pregs Govender and Mr Mac Maharaj. Ms Govender commended Dr Ginwala for ensuring that Parliament processed over 80 per cent of gender empowerment legislation during her term as the Speaker. Mr Maharaj, meanwhile, described Dr Ginwala as a formidable figure in a generation of leaders and a resolute and resilient freedom fighter.

Former ambassador Ms Barbara Masekela, who worked with Dr Ginwala in the ANC, described her as a freedom fighter par excellence. “Her dedication to the people of South Africa places her in the pantheon of a cohort of leaders whose legacy will live forever, a legacy which we have to defend and preserve. Her life of service stretched from her youth until death. She was a feminist of high calibre, who ensured that justice for women was inserted in every programme in which she participated,” said Ms Masekela.

Sakhile Mokoena

25 January 2023